Kyrgyzstan wants to introduce secular disciplines along with religion in religious educational institutions. The draft regulation on religious education has been brought up for public discussion.

A Bishkek resident Gulnaz graduated from the madrasah last year and now is going to Moscow to earn money. She is going to work at a grocer’s:

–  When I completed 9th grade, I chose to enter the madrasah. My elder brother whom our mother made study at the madrasah was a role model for me. She thought if he gets religious education, he wouldn’t have a bad company, would neither smoke, nor drink. So it all came true, he is a very caring man, so I entered the madrasah, too.

The disciplines we studied were the history of origin and development of religion, the life of the prophet, the Islamic ethics, the study of Quran. Moreover, we were taught cookery and fundamentals of sewing.

The tuition fee was 12 thousand soms (171.8 dollars) per year. The majority of my college mates are now sitting at homes, some got married and don’t work so far. I also got married and my spouse and I are going to my brother to Moscow, where he found a job for us.

According to the State Commission for Religious Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, today Kyrgyzstan has 102 madrasahs and 9 higher religious educational institutions officially registered. In February 2017, the country had about 6 thousand students of madrasahs. However, the studies of the non-governmental organisation Bulan Institute have shown that the number of students is much more than that because not all madrasahs have been officially registered.

Students of one of madrasahs in Kyrgyzstan. Photo:

The researchers have divided madrasahs into two categories. The first one is officially registered madrasahs with separate buildings and all conditions for study.

“The second category is mainly the madrasahs, which are established at mosques, like a hujra. They absolutely have no conditions for study. They operate only at the expense of contributions – Sadaka and other money that come to the mosque as charity. Many of such unofficial madrasahs have not been registered, they have no conditions for study of children, have poor sanitation conditions,” as reported by Bulan Institute.

Amendments to curriculum

According to the head of analysis department of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR), Gulnaz Isaeva, Kyrgyzstan is facing a growing interest to the Islam and other religions. The number of religious educational institutions is growing, as well. Therefore, the agency has developed a draft project of religious education regulation.

“It specifies who is going to teach; what conditions should be met by a curriculum; conditions in the classroom; the uniform; whether the institution meets technical requirements and who is going to control the situation. Also, those students who want to obtain brief information about religion can take short-term expedited courses,” Isaeva said.

The new regulations by GKDR bind all secondary religious institutions, regardless of the religious affiliation, to introduce such disciplines into their curricula as Man and Society, The history of religions, Kyrgyz literature.

10 disciplines in total must be introduced to the curricula of higher educational institutions: The history of Kyrgyzstan, Civil studies, Religious studies, Kyrgyz language, Russian/foreign language, Geography, Sociology, World history, Psychology and education, Information technologies.

New attempt

This is not the first attempt to get the religious education under control. In 2013, the member of parliament, Kanybek Osmonaliev, developed a draft law “On religious education and religious institutions”, but it passed only the first reading. He views the new document favourably, but thinks it should be rather a law than a regulation.

No one controls them, no one cares what they teach there.

“The point is not to make this regulation just another profanation for show. We can see the real size of the problem: no one controls this sphere. A lot of religious schools have been opened, either Islamic or Christian, or sectarian. Anyone who feels like it has opened schools. No one controls them, no one cares what they teach there,” Osmonaliev said.

However, religious expert Indira Aslanova views the new document favourably. According to her, it is more developed unlike previous ones and takes into account the principles of the secular state and introduces certain standards.

“Moreover, the state does not interfere with the educational content, it only checks they don’t call for extremism, and stipulates that the curriculum must contain secular disciplines. It’s very important because some studies held in Kyrgyzstan have shown that the students of madrasahs are interested in having a broader curriculum as it would help them better integrate into the community. One of the studies has found that they thought the president of the country was a mufti,” Aslanova said.

Integration into community

According to the new document, the content of general education disciplines should be approved by joint order of authorities in charge of religious affairs according to the required level of knowledge of students.

“Why do we demand that these disciplines should be compulsory? We don’t want the students of religious schools to become outsiders in the social life of the country. Therefore, such subjects as History, Man and Society have been included,” Isaeva said.

In turn, the head of the educational department of DUMK, Akimzhan Ergeshov, said madrasahs admit students after completion of 9th grade, which means that students have some basic education.

“The Ulema Council of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan approves the curriculum. Some madrasahs teach some occupations in addition to religious education. For example, girls study sewing and boys study welding, plumbing, etc. However, not all madrasahs do the same. Moreover, some madrasahs invite teachers to teach secular subjects such as mathematics, Kyrgyz language, physics, chemistry,” Ergeshov said.

According to him, some madrasah students study simultaneously in secular schools to receive a certificate upon completion. Despite the introduction of 10 disciplines into the curriculum, madrasahs are not authorised to issue certificates of secondary education. To be authorised to do that, according to the regulations of the ministry of education, they should have 16 secular disciplines in their curricula.

In this case, educational institutions should seek funds on their own to pay salaries to teachers of secular subjects.

“Many people mistakenly believe that if the state itself offers to introduce secular disciplines, it must pay them. But we have to take into account that all religious schools are private and they themselves must seek money to pay salaries to teachers,” Gulnaz Isaeva said.

As to the higher religious educational institutions, only the Kyrgyz Islamic University, out of nine, has been partially licensed by the ministry of education.

“The graduates of this university can apply to public posts. They have license from the ministry of education to teach three disciplines: the Arabic language and philology, theology and introduction to religion,” Ergeshov said.

Religious schools should give priority to the interests and prospects of children.

Expert Muratbek Imankulov noted that introduction of secular subjects into the curricula of religious educational institutions is a good investment into the future of students.

“We suggest that the muftiate should give an opportunity to madrasah graduates to enter universities or continue studying along with the graduates of secondary schools. We emphasise that religious schools should give priority to the interests and prospects of children so that they can find a rightful place in the society, find a job and keep a family,” Imankulov said.